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Doping no big surprise locals say

Confession elicits mixed reaction from area cycling community
By: ANDREW WESTROPE, Journal Staff Writer
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Less than three years after Lance Armstrong passed through Auburn on the AMGEN Tour of California, local cycling enthusiasts are more subdued in their reactions to his latest headlines.
 
Former tri-athlete Brad Kearns of Auburn, once a friend of Armstrong’s and now a motivational speaker and author of a 2006 book on competitive discipline called “How Lance Does It,” said he was unsurprised by Armstrong’s interview on Thursday, in which he confessed to a career of performance-enhancing drug use.
 
“The curtain was exposed on cycling several years ago, when a majority of the greatest riders of the last couple decades were implicated in the scandals that happened in Europe, so it was absolutely no surprise,” he said. “It’s not a happy ending and there’s no redeeming value either way. It’s just tragic, and I guess the only thing you can say is, maybe everyone can heal, including him.”
 
Kearns said he knew Armstrong personally as a “kind person” who is loyal and has “exceptional personal qualities, provided you don’t screw with him.”
 
He said he does not want to defend Armstrong’s dishonesty, but he pointed to money and fan pressure as the source of corruption in professional competition, as millions of dollars in sponsorships and charities make it difficult to pack up and go home on moral grounds.
 
“We want to go to a San Francisco Giants game and see Barry Bonds hit one in the water, and we don’t care about anything else, because that’s our biggest priority when we drive two hours and spend the money on the tickets,” he said. “In Lance’s case, he was the leader of a multi-million dollar empire with many, many people’s careers and paychecks depending on him coming in first place … It wasn’t even a moral dilemma, it was just, ‘This is how the game is played.’”
 
Bike enthusiast Dan Tebbs, co-owner of Victory Velo Bike Shop in Auburn, watched the interview with a group of employees, customers, and only a little surprise.
 
“For us, as an industry, I think it needs to happen. He’s been denying it for so long, it’s finally good to see him actually come out and say he has doped,” he said.
 
Tebbs guessed the scandal will have a negative impact on most people’s opinions of professional cycling, and it may be too late for Armstrong’s confession to set an example of honesty.
 
“I think there will always be the supporters, but overall, I think he probably crossed that bridge a long time ago when he should have come clean,” he said.
 
One of Tebbs’ employees, Chelsey Reeves, was not surprised Armstrong had been using drugs and was more bothered by his adamant denial, but she still credits him with boosting interest in professional cycling.
 
“You have to look at the good and the bad,” she said. “He has done a lot for the sport, putting cycling on the map for the United States, because it’s huge over in Europe.”
 
Duke Jay, owner of A Town Bikes, caught some of Armstrong’s confession on the news Friday morning but was not particularly upset about it. He said it may give the sport a bit of a black eye, but the confession will make little difference to professional athletes and dedicated hobbyists. He said it’s no different from so many other professional sports, because at that level of competition and with so much money involved, “it’s human nature.”
 
Bike Emporium owner Bill Marengo only watched pieces of the interview and said he never doubted Armstrong was doing drugs. He credited Armstrong with doing a lot for Trek Bicycle, the last U.S.-made bike company, but said Armstrong should have come clean years ago if for no other reason than to save his own image.
 
“No man can operate in that kind of environment and perform at that level without some kind of madness in his body, and you wanted to believe that madness was okay, because you wanted a superhero,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people the past couple weeks, and most people are just disappointed at the process, in general, of the way the USADA (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) went after him and the way Lance denied it … In the end, what does it really mean for the amount of tax dollars we spent chasing Lance to strip away his titles?”
 
Marengo said he doesn’t think the confession will inspire anyone else to come clean, and the whole scandal comes from the corrupting influence of money, so Armstrong should have used the attention of his final interview to serve his alleged mission in life, to help fight cancer.
 
“If Lance would have come on the show, in this cynical, economic trying time we’re in right now, and said, ‘All the proceeds Oprah is paying me to be on this show are being 100 percent donated to the Lance Armstrong Foundation,’ wouldn’t that soften it up quite a bit?” he said.
 
Hoping that Armstrong’s legacy of philanthropy will transcend his association with the doping culture, Kearns said the only lesson left is to “beware of selling your soul to pursue your dreams.”
 
“If more athletes act with honorable character when they’re caught, that’s when you can really pull something out of it and say, ‘The person made a mistake, and they’re owning up to it,’” he said.